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SIU, SIH expand partnership to address nursing shortage


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nursing students wearing masks

Photo by Russell Bailey

June 21, 2022

SIU, SIH expand partnership to address nursing shortage

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — If you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree or accumulated a significant number of hours toward a degree and have ever considered a career in nursing, you will want to check out a new Southern Illinois University Carbondale program that allows qualified candidates to earn their Bachelor of Science in nursing degree in about a year with a fully funded scholarship.

The ongoing partnership between SIU and Southern Illinois Healthcare (SIH) to address the shortage of nurses has advanced to a new level with the announcement that SIH is creating a scholarship program for SIU’s accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.

SIU Chancellor Austin A. Lane said the agreement that formalizes the scholarship program correlates well with SIU’s Imagine 2030 strategic plan, and particularly the pillars that focus on improving student success and enhancing partnerships.

“As two anchor institutions in the Southern Illinois region, SIU Carbondale and SIH have a responsibility to meet the needs of our community,” he said. “I am grateful to SIH for its support and excited that our university is providing even greater opportunities to our students while benefitting the people who live right in our own backyard.”

There has been a severe shortage of trained nurses not only in Southern Illinois but throughout the country, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the need the last couple of years, according to Rex Budde, SIH president and CEO.

Rex_Budde-sm.jpg“Our partnership with SIU on the nursing issue is a perfect example of a meaningful, effective collaboration,” Budde said. “It helps the students find a path for a great job and a wonderful career, and it boosts the SIU enrollment. And at the same time, it helps us because it expands the pool of well-qualified nurses that we can draw from. As two of the region’s largest employers, it’s very nice to partner in this cooperative, collaborative way, working together to address needs.”

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Qualifying for full scholarships

People who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field or at least 70 hours toward a bachelor’s degree, including specific prerequisite courses, can qualify for this program and complete their BSN in just a year. Officials particularly encourage students with backgrounds in chemistry, biology, pre-medicine, pre-dentistry or other health sciences to apply.  

Kelli-Whittington-sm.jpg Kelli Whittington, SIU assistant professor and nursing program director in the School of Health Sciences, said it’s common for people to consider making a career change to help others after experiencing a personal or family health issue. Or they may consider a career transition when they learn of opportunities in health care. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2021 median annual salary for a registered nurse is $77,600.

Budde said the scholarships take the financial pressure off students.

“It’s important to have options,” Budde said. “Sometimes people complete their undergraduate education and later decide they want to go a different direction. This gives them a second chance to use what they’ve already learned in a different manner.”

Likewise, at times students will begin a career in one health-oriented field and then transition to another field, such as nursing, where they find a better fit, officials said. 

SIH is open to providing as many scholarships as there are qualified applicants, according to Jennifer Harre, SIH chief nursing officer. She said the scholarship funding will vary as it will be tailored to the individual needs of the student. The student will then agree to work at an SIH facility for a period of time commensurate with the amount of funding received.

For details about the new scholarships and submitting an application, email Whittington at [email protected]

How acute is need?

Jennifer_Harre-sm.jpg“The nursing shortage is significant,” Harre said. “It’s been very critical to our organization because we’ve had to backfill a large number of vacancies with higher dollar contracted employees, and that’s just not sustainable. Even then we have had to close beds at times because we don’t have the staff to cover all of the beds, and that means patients have go outside the region for care. We don’t want them to have to do that.”

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She said the need for nurses will continue.

“By working closely with SIU, we can build up our workforce and offer students a career path and guaranteed employment,” Harre said.

The scholarship program advances the collaboration that has been in place for some time between SIU and SIH. SIU began its Bachelor of Science in Nursing program in 2019, thanks in part to a $1 million pledge from SIH. When fully operational, officials anticipate SIU’s nursing program will provide training for about 300 students over a four-year period.

SIU’s nursing program offers three tracks: the traditional four-year bachelor’s program, RN to BSN degree-completion program and accelerated BSN program.

Accelerated program is rigorous

The accelerated program is concentrated, essentially covering the advanced skills typically taught over a three-year period in just a year, officials said.

“Students in this program typically have a track record of life and academic success. It’s a very challenging, intense program, designed to turn out high-quality nurses,” Whittington said. “We are so appreciative of SIH’s ongoing leadership and support of SIU and our students.”

Harre and Budde said SIH is also grateful to SIU for its leadership and efforts to help address the issue. Harre said Whittington and the rest of the faculty and staff are great to work with and SIH is pleased to offer the scholarships and other support.

“We are trying to help people go into health care because they want to help people,” Harre said. “Nursing is a hard but rewarding career. We want people who want to do it not just for the money but because they care about people. With this program, we’re telling them, if you can do this for one year, we will support you for that year. You can go to school and earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in just one year and then when you graduate, we want you to come work for us. It’s a win-win for them, SIU, SIH and the community.”

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Two more health care programs launching at SIU

The university is also addressing other health care needs in the region and beyond with the addition of doctoral programs for occupational therapy and physical therapy. No other public university doctoral programs for occupational therapy or physical therapy are available within a seven-hour drive of SIU.

The occupational therapy program is launching this fall while the physical therapy program is set to begin upon receipt of approvals from the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education and the hiring of faculty for the program. SIH pledged up to $470,000 toward the two graduate programs and helped develop the curriculum. SIU students will receive their clinical training at a variety of institutions, including SIH facilities.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth rate for physical therapists from 2020-2030 is 21%, much higher than for most careers, with a 2021 median annual salary of $95,620. The job outlook for occupational therapists is similar, with an anticipated growth of 17% in the decade ending 2030 and median 2021 annual salary of $85,570.

The programs are designed for students who are currently certified occupational therapist assistants, physical therapist assistants or other allied health assistants, as well as qualified general admission candidates. The curriculum will be offered as a hybrid three-year, on-site program.

For more information about these programs, visit sah.siu.edu or contact the School of Health Sciences at 618-453-7211 or [email protected]

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